All seven towns in Middlebury-area ACSU back unification

MIDDLEBURY — Addison Central Supervisory Union voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly endorsed a proposal to form a unified Addison Central School District (ACSD) that will govern all public schools in the seven towns and place them under a single education budget.
Voters in Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge also elected the 13-member ACSD board that will officially assume full oversight of the district on July 1, 2017. The existing nine school boards within Addison Central will continue to function, while ceding various responsibilities to the ACSD board during the transition to unified governance.
“I am completely thrilled,” said Ruth Hardy, co-chairwoman of the Addison Central Supervisory Union Charter Committee that laid the groundwork for Tuesday’s vote. “I couldn’t be happier about it.”
Hardy noted ACSU has spent the past 53 years looking at ways of streamlining its governance structure as a way of delivering public education more efficiently and cost-effectively.
Still, this most recent successful effort was spurred by Vermont’s Act 46, which provides financial incentives for school districts that consolidate their governance as a means of containing the rising costs of public education. Act 46 is currently encouraging school districts to unify their governance, but the state has served notice that it will compel all districts to join the unification effort by 2020.
Governance unification passed by a combined total of 3,404-792 in all seven towns.
The question passed 334-98 in Bridport; 404-63 in Cornwall; 1,631-278 in Middlebury; 150-93 in Ripton; 251-78 in Salisbury; 305-143 in Shoreham; and 329-39 in Weybridge.
Middlebury residents will hold seven of the 13 seats on the ACSD board. Bridport, Cornwall, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge will hold one each.
All 13 members of the ACSD board were elected at-large on Tuesday. There were contested races for seats in Bridport and Ripton. In those races, Suzanne Buck beat Rick Scott, 1,538 to 1,182, for Bridport’s seat, while Perry Hanson prevailed in a three-person race for Ripton’s seat. Hanson won with 1,033 votes, followed by Bryan Alexander with 993 and Jerry Shedd with 498.
Hanson said he was pleased with his successful election.
“I’m thrilled that it worked out for me,” Hanson said.
Hanson is a Ripton school director and member of the ACSU Charter Committee and ACSU Strategic Plan Committee. He said a run for the unified board made sense for him as a logical extension of his work on those other panels.
“It’s very exciting,” he said of Addison Central’s future under one board.
Efforts to reach Buck were unsuccessful as the Addison Independent went to press on Wednesday.
All other ACSD board candidates ran unopposed. They included Peter Conlon in Cornwall, Jennifer Nuceder in Salisbury, Nick Causton in Shoreham and Christopher Eaton in Weybridge. The seven candidates elected to Middlebury’s seats were Lorraine Morse, Josh Quinn, Steve Orzech, Jason Duquette-Hoffman, Ruth Hardy, J.P. Rees and Victoria Jette.
The Vermont Agency of Education will determine when the new unified school boards in the state will hold their first meetings. Those meetings are not likely to occur within the next 30 days, the window in which residents could petition to reconsider the governance merger referendum in their town.
When the ACSD board does convene, Hardy said it will choose officers and turn its attention to such issues as drafting board policies and procedures, looking at how a global budget for all the member schools can be prepared, and discussing the need for a new teachers’ contract for ACSD educators.
“I don’t think we’ll waste any time,” Hardy said.
The ACSD will include the elementary schools in Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge, along with Middlebury Union Middle and High schools.
Under Act 46 to date, 35 communities — representing 40 school districts — have voted to streamline themselves into nine unified districts. Locally, Addison Northwest and Rutland Northeast supervisory union are also among those that have opted for unification. Orange, Addison, Rutland, and Franklin counties voted to consolidate district governance on Town Meeting Day, according to the Shumlin administration.
“I’m proud of these communities and their school boards for their hard work to chart a course that will lead to a higher quality public education system,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said through a press release. “These larger districts will be able to provide more stability and support for their small, local schools.
“One year ago these important conversations were not happening,” Shumlin added. “Today they are, because of Act 46, not despite it. The law has sparked communities around Vermont to have conversations about the future of their kids’ education and how to make it better. Those conversations are necessary because Vermont has over 20,000 fewer students than we did ten years ago.”
UD-3 board member Peter Conlon of Cornwall was among the ACSU officials who worked on governance consolidation. He was pleased with Tuesday’s outcome.
“The overwhelming support for unification was really incredible,” he said. “It shows the open mind our communities had going into this. It also means a great responsibility for those of us on the new unified board to keep education moving forward and be responsive to all citizens in the district.”
Tuesday’s unanimous approval of a unified board means all seven ACSU communities will be in line for some property tax breaks and grants to help with the transition to the new system.
Financial advantages will include a decrease of 10 cents on the towns’ education property tax rates during the first year of the governance merger, followed by 8 cents in year two; 6 cents in year three; 4 cents in year four; and finally, 2 cents in year five. The ACSD will also receive a one-time “transition facilitation grant” of $150,000 and the ability to retain their Small Schools Grants, which for ACSU schools amount to a combined total of $470,000 annually.
ACSU Charter Committee members have tentatively estimated that school governance unification will bring cumulative, five-year savings of $1.80 on Bridport’s tax rate, $1.60 on Cornwall’s rate, 80 cents for Middlebury, $2.30 for Ripton, $1.60 for both Salisbury and Shoreham, and $2.80 for Weybridge.
The cumulative, five-year savings on a $200,000 home would be $3,600 in Bridport, $3,200 in Cornwall, $1,600 in Middlebury, $4,600 in Ripton, $3,200 in both Salisbury and Shoreham, and $5,600 in Weybridge, according to an ACSU flier sent out this week.
ACSU Superintendent Peter Burrows will soon deal with one governing board, instead of the current nine. But the underlying mission of district officials and parents will not change, he noted.
“As the new board takes shape, our citizens still need to have the same passion for our community schools, the same commitment to what’s best for our students, and the same resolution to put students first,” Burrows said. “It’s what makes our communities unrivaled in Vermont, and what we will continue to grow in our new governance structure.
“We are expanding our boundaries, and will work to focus on every student in ACSD with the same commitment and core belief that each student deserves an exceptional educational experience to set them up for success in the years ahead,” he added.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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